As Black Friday has evolved and even blurred with Cyber Monday, has it become too much for marketers, retailers and consumers alike to digest?
The deal "creep," in which brands are known to push out their Black Friday promotions well-before the first official day of fall, now also appears to be happening with Cyber Monday. Though the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend is two days away, marking the "official kick off" so to speak for the holiday shopping season, consumers now have the option to shop the storied deals after they cut the turkey Thursday.
According to AdGooroo, advertisers had already spent $52,417 on Black Friday keyword group from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, 324% more than what they spend on the same keywords the previous two months combined. In the fourth quarter of 2014, AdGooroo notes, advertisers spent $4.6 billion on U.S. Google desktop text ads. Adgooroo found that Best Buy spent almost $2 million, Walmart nearly $1.2 million, Target spent $889,000 and Amazon paid $837,000, just during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday stretch.
If ad spending during the five day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday last year is any indication, marketers are going to continue shelling out big bucks to lure deal-lovers.
And marketers know those early holiday ads can be effective: 70% of U.S Internet users polled by AYTM Market Research said they had already seen holiday ads by Nov. 4 this year. Nearly half (47%) said that holiday ads shown before Thanksgiving were effective, with 10.6% of respondents "strongly" agreeing they were effective. Some shoppers (29%), however, disagreed.
Putting some research behind holiday shopping, a study from Oracle Marketing Cloud and Edison Research found that a majority of people finish most of their holiday purchases by October – even spending $900 more in October than December. What does change is during October online and in-store purchases are about equal, but by December in-store purchases take the lead at 60%. BestBlackFriday.com, in a separate survey, found that 27% of Internet users planning to make Black Friday purchases had started their research in October.
All of that being said, though, some industry insiders say that the ever-stretched out high-spend marketing event has crescendoed.
Rebecca Brooks, founder and a partner of Alter Agents, a qualitative and quantitative research firm, believes "the insanity of Black Friday has peaked and is behind us."
"Consumer trends towards lower quantity, higher quality products is on the rise. There is an emphasis on more ‘meaning’ attached to gifts, which will mean growth in customized products, artisinal and local products, as well as homemade or handcrafted gifts. These are not Black Friday staples," she said.
Black Friday, the evolution of a shopping phenomenon
The first mention of Black Friday as a shopping day following Thanksgiving was in a 1961 Philadelphia public relations newsletter that used the term to refer to the traffic problems created on the post-turkey day Friday and Saturday. Even though the connotation wasn’t promotional in nature, the term stuck around and was used in 1975 by the New York Times to describe what Philadelphia police and bus drivers called the day.
As retailers embraced the term, and the idea of a big day at the cash register to kick off holiday spending, it became the norm for stores to open as early as 6 a.m. to extend the shopping day. It was also a time to offer promotions and Black Friday sales to get people into their store instead of a competitor. At the same consumers became used to the idea of getting out early to take advantage of those deals, which as a result helped retailers prep for the year ahead.
Black Friday shifted in the early 2000s when retailers began opening earlier, at 5 or even 4 a.m., to further extend the shopping day. Finally in 2011, a handful of big box retailers including Kohl’s, Best Buy, Macy’s and target began opening at midnight as Thanksgiving Day turned into Black Friday. Walmart, along with other retailers, upped the ante in 2012 opening on Thanksgiving Day at 8 p.m. That retail “arms race” has led to some stores to open Thanksgiving Day morning with some not closing until Black Friday had passed, staying open for 40-plus hours straight.
Cyber Monday, the new kid on the holiday shopping block, was coined in 2005 after the industry realized that shoppers who couldn’t, or just didn’t want to get involved with the Black Friday frenzy would make a noticeable boost in online shopping the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Some argue Cyber Monday isn't the best day for deals. Adobe research found Thanksgiving and Black Friday beat out Cyber Monday for consumer deals, and a GOBankingRates study from 2014 revealed some Cyber Monday deals are " so 'unimpressive' that the day doesn't even deserve its own name."
But for shoppers who prefer the comfort of their couch, and for marketers who can easily make some digital promotional pushes via email or social media, for example, it can be a good alternative.
Black Friday backlash
Black Friday isn’t going away by any stretch, and it’s still a key shopping day for many retailers as well as an event for many consumers. But, at the same time, there has been some backlash against the escalating store hours and almost riot scenes that have played out in recent years.
In fact this year some big retailers are actively pushing back against Black Friday frenzy. REI announced its not opening on Black Friday this year, giving its employees a paid day off and even started a #OptOutside social media hashtag campaign encouraging people to share what they are doing on Black Friday instead of hitting the stores that will be open. Another outdoor gear retailer, Outdoor Research, also announced it won’t be open this Friday and is joining in REI’s hashtag campaign. It's also launching one of its own with its #OutdoorResearch hoping to get social shares of non-shopping activities. REI saw social media mentions soar after announcing the news, giving it a nice promotional bump.
Alter Agents’ Brooks says, “Other consumer trends pushing on a smaller Black Friday is a rejection of the obscene displays of greed and aggression that have dominated the media on the day of and days following Black Friday. The average shopper is becoming more disquieted with the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving, midnight openings, and stampeding towards sales.”
She pointed out that REI was praised for rejecting opening on Black Friday, much less on Thanksgiving, something marketers might want to take note of.
“More brands will recognize that they are playing a long game for brand loyalty and consumer connection, and a race to the bottom on prices is a short term strategy that will only damage their brands over time,” she said.